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Why I won’t vote for Joe Riley!,
Corrosion by power
Warwick Jones

There are number of reasons why I will not vote for Joe Riley in the City election next week. But perhaps the major reason is his already long tenure as City Mayor. Another term will take the tenure to 36 years. It is not the actual time that he has spent in office that is an issue. It is the concomitant corrosion of the political and administrative processes, and the too often subordination of the will of citizens to the interests of developers. Over his 32 years in office, Mayor Riley has built a network, largely in the business, development and professional fields that allow him to harvest hundreds of thousands of dollar for his political campaigns. We don’t know what the final figure will be for this year’s campaign but that 4 years ago, was approaching $1 million. This is a multiple of what any opponent can raise.

Strong backing by local business and professionals
The Mayor has a strong body of supporters. No doubt many have a genuine belief in his ability and leadership. But there is also no doubt that some, maybe many that support him because of the business brought to them by the City, or fear that their enterprises may suffer in some way if they don’t. We published a note, Mayor Riley’s Money Machine on October 8, 2007 detailing the donors to the current Riley Campaign.

Funds drained off for potential other candidates
One might ask, what is wrong with such strong business support? It a reflection of the standing of the Mayor with these entities, you will say. We agree, but it is the polarizing of funding that concerns us. The more polarized it becomes, the less the likelihood that sufficient funds can be raised by another candidate to topple the Mayor. When for one reason or another, business and professionals contribute perhaps 90% of their collective donations to one candidate in the Mayoral campaign, the other candidates’ prospects for raising funds are sharply reduced. And whether we like it or not, there is a strong correlation between campaign spending and a successful election result. The longer the Mayor stays in power the longer he is likely to remain in power!

Corrosion of Council elections as well
Corrosion relates to the election of Council members as well. Look at the financial support given to Council member Wilson by the Mayor’s supporters when she ran again the then-incumbent Robert George. Much of the support came from folk outside her electorate and who, in our opinion, were doing the bidding of the Mayor. Robert George was a true independent member of Council, and frequently a thorn in the Mayor's side. He has been replaced with a compliant Council member who has yet to give a meaningful speech on any significant issue.

Corrosion and stultification of the process
But it is more than the long tenure generating a determining weight of money. It is also the stultification and corrosion of the governing and administration process. Boards and committees working with the City, and some that aren’t, are increasingly filled with the Mayor’s supporters. Many do their job well and serve diligently. But some don’t. And when “push comes to shove”, it’s the loyalty to the Mayor that counts more than anything else. We expressed some pretty harsh views about the Board of Architectural Review when it approved the Clemson School of Architecture Building. We also have also criticised the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Planning Commission and Tourism Commission on occasion. Members of all of these entities are appointed by the Mayor and although the Council has to approve the appointments, we have never seen in the last 4 years anything but “rubber stamp” approval.

Historic Charleston Foundation concerns us
The Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) is an entity that also concerns us. Its directors are chosen by directors. All directors may have genuine interest in preservation but the majority also has something else in common, a close relationship with the Mayor. As we noted in The Historic Charleston Foundation, Watchdog or tail waggin’spaniel? September 8, 2004, the HCF has done an outstanding job in the past, but there is a suspicion in recent years that it has been restrained in some of its efforts when they cut across the plans of the City.

Issues of trust and transparency
And then there are the issues of trust and transparency. Dealing firstly with trust, the recent Fire Department response to the Super Sofa has raised a large question mark over trust in the Mayor and his administration. So much has already been said and we won’t rehash it. But our view is simple – the City did not have a “world class” fire department or a “world class” fire chief as we were repeatedly told. The Mayor will not accept the responsibility for the questionable performance of the department. Someone has to be responsible and considering the nature of the City’s management, it can only be him. But inexplicably, he acts as though he is wrongly accused and hides behind the claim that his critics are motivated by politics. Our retort is that even if they are, it makes no difference to his responsibility.

Trust breached at Spaulding-Paolozzi Foundation
We also look to the Mayor’s position as a Trustee of the Spaulding–Paolozzi Foundation. The Foundation was set up some 6 or 7 year ago and has estimated assets of about $13.5 million. The Foundation’s purpose can be summarized “to research issues concerning health and aging, ecological preservation, agricultural development, and all issues concerning women” A fuller set of purposes can be seen in Was the Spaulding-Paolozzi gift proper? July 27 2005. .

The major grants over recent years have been to City-sponsored projects that have nothing to do with the Foundations aim’s - $500,000 to the Aquarium, $1 million to Clemson School of Architectures, and $1 million towards the renovation of the DockStreet Theatre. The Mayor may have been close to the Countess. But it seems to us, that the trustees have acted against her wishes. So what some might say? The City has benefited. But what is the purpose of a trustee if it is not to apply funds to the purposes defined by the Founder? And if a Trustee does not properly fulfill his or her duties, can they be trusted to run a City? The Foundation has the appearance of a cash cow for the Mayor’s special projects. And this is wrong!

The issue of transparency
And then there is transparency. There are many things that go on in the Administration that don’t see the light of day, or at least not much if. But these issues need airing. Some blame for the opaqueness can be laid at the feet of the present Council who is often unprepared for the items on the meeting agenda, and ask no questions. And sometimes, the Council is simply ignored by the Mayor.

Council generally compliant or intimidated
The Mayor has a Council in place that does not ask sufficient questions. We have been told by Council members that critical questioning and worse, a vote against the wishes of the Mayor, can earn a sharp rebuke after the meeting. And if you get on the bad side of the Mayor, look out! Consequently, the discussion of issues at City Council meetings is generally tame, and often non-existent. Council members are either intimidated or totally compliant.

And all the other reasons
And there are more reasons. Readers of this blog will know that we often have been critical of the City for its lack of planning, the overwhelming number of major development projects in the historic district, the traffic jams, the lousy drainage on the Peninsula, and the lack of green space and playing fields. We also wonder how that Mayor has developed a reputation for providing “affordable housing” and championing preservation. As we said in our note A growing frustration with City policy , July 21, 2006, it is an undeserved reputation.

Mayor Riley’s campaign has the same ring as similar campaigns – a focus of public safety, planning, economic dvelopment, and drainage. The promises are general, and short of specifics. As candidate William Gregorie has said, at least in relation to public safety and planning, how can you vote for Mayor Riley to fix our problems when he is responsible for them. He has a point!

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